Confederate William Holland Thomas never knew his father, was raised by a single mother in a lowly mountain home, lacked any formal education, but was one of the most prominent figures in Western North Carolina’s history.
Thomas was the commanding colonel of North Carolina's sole American Civil War legion, Thomas' Legion, and was the only white man to serve as a Cherokee chief. His cousins included President Zachary Taylor and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. It is widely believed that without Thomas's intervention there would not be the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and, to this day, the Eastern Band bestows honor and gratitude to their great white chief.
William H. Thomas organized Thomas’s Legion of Cherokee Indians and mountaineers here in September 1862. Several locals, both white and Indian, joined the unit, which fought in Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina. Thomas eventually recruited more than 2,000 men, among them about 400 Cherokee.
Thomas was the first and only white man to serve as Cherokee Chief and was instrumental in obtaining the land on which the Qualla Boundary, located north of Franklin, was established. He was the subject of a 2006 novel “Thirteen Moons”, by former Franklin resident Charles Frazier.